6 tips to protect yourself from repair scams

By Barbara Marquand on October 11th, 2011

When your home is in tatters, the sudden appearance of a friendly workman offering to do repairs might seem like a godsend.

But be careful--the visit could be part of a devilish scam.

Eyeing opportunity in the wake of disasters, con artists quickly descend on ravaged neighborhoods to prey on vulnerable homeowners. Typically they go door to door, making unsolicited offers to do work. To boost credibility, they sometimes claim to have already been hired by your neighbors.

Some demand money upfront, and then leave without doing any work or after completing only part of the job. Others use poor materials and perform inferior work, or in some instances inflict further damage to warrant more-expensive repairs.

Protect yourself by following these tips from insurance companies.

1. "If you didn't request it, reject it," the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says. Not every contractor who knocks on your door is dishonest; however almost every scam begins with an unsolicited visit.

2. Contact your insurance company to report damage. The insurer can provide a list of recommended contractors and help you file a claim. Carefully review documents, and get clarification on anything you don't understand.

3. For major repairs, request bids from at least three contractors, and be skeptical of a bid that is significantly lower than the others.

4. Do your homework. Make sure the contractor is licensed to do business in your state. Ask for references, and call them. Request to see a salesperson's driver's license and jot down that number, along with the license plate number of the vehicle, the NICB says.

5. Say no to high-pressure sales techniques. Don't let yourself be bullied into handing over a deposit or signing a contract. Never rely on a contractor's interpretation of an insurance policy. Beware of any contractor who doesn't want you to contact your insurer.

6. Get details in writing--work to be performed, cost, materials to be used, guarantees, timeframes and payment schedules. Fill in the blanks to prevent unacceptable terms from being added later. Don't sign a certificate of completion until you make sure all the repairs are done to your satisfaction and everything is up to current codes.

Contact your insurer or the NICB's hotline 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422) if you suspect a dishonest contractor or disreputable adjuster has tried to scam you or talk you into lying on an insurance claim.

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